Encountering peace: Barak is coming?

In a scathing attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, former prime minister Ehud Barak, it seems, on Tuesday, opened his campaign to retake the Prime Minister’s Office. Barak’s attack was ideological and focused on what he called the only existential threat facing the State of Israel – which is officially becoming one state, binational, religiously fanatic, undemocratic, with a Muslim majority.

I completely agree with Barak – for 51 years we have in reality become a one-state binational reality in which it is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to continue to define ourselves as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. The policies of Netanyahu-Bennet-Shaked-Lieberman, supported by Kahlon and the ultra-Orthodox, are systematically removing the possibilities of a two-state solution and legislating laws that limit democracy and the civil rights of those who disagree with the current regime’s policies and philosophies.

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In order to advance their agenda, pushing Israeli further away from the urgent need for political partition, this government is implementing policies which are war crimes, such as the removal of Palestinians from area C such as in Khan al-Ahmar, in order to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank and to annex the area to Israel. The Land of Israel does extend beyond the green line, but the State of Israel must have an agreed border with our Palestinian neighbors and it must be based on that Green Line. And within the State of Israel we must be moving in the direction of greater equality for all citizens and the genuine development of a shared society for all Israelis.

BARAK FURTHERS his warranted attack against Netanyahu and company regarding the populism and ultra-nationalism that is taking hold in Israel like an infectious disease and leads Israel to distance itself from the liberal social democracies of Western Europe and Scandinavia into the club of nationalistic xenophobic nations of Eastern Europe. Netanyahu embraces Donald Trump as Trump commits acts that are seen as treasonous against the liberal values that are at the roots of American democracy.

Trump and Netanyahu are now part of the same alliance of chauvinistic demagogic leaders that admire others like Vladimir Putin while they push their countries to turn their back on those nations that have been long time allies and partners in building a free world. Netanyahu turns his back on Western Europe not because they have become anti-Israel. The nations of Western liberal Europe have supported and continue to support Israel’s legitimate right to exist and to defend itself against terrorism and acts of aggression against its sovereignty. Those very same nations though support those very same rights for the Palestinian people and, therefore, they reject Israel’s occupation and control over the Palestinian people.

Those nations also reject Palestinian terrorism and continue to relate to Hamas as a terrorist organization, but at the same time reject Israel’s use of lethal force against unarmed Palestinians trying to break through the Israel-Gaza border. Those same nations reject Israel’s continued siege of Gaza, starving and breaking nearly two million people because they have a regime that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Ireland and Sweden, two countries in Europe which are leading the European backing of Palestinian rights are not anti-Israel and are not antisemitic. They, similar to almost every other nation in the West, support Israel’s rights and legitimacy very strongly, but they reject and oppose the occupation and now also Israel’s speed run towards non-democratic legislation.

I agree with most of Barak’s scathing attack. But I am in direct opposition to Barak’s continued call for what he calls “divorce” from the Palestinians. Israel and the Palestinians were never married and using this terminology, which is very common on the Zionist Left, is a distortion of reality and of history. Barak’s call for divorce is a direct continuation of Barak’s corruption of the origins of Oslo which were based on ending occupation, political partition but also building deep-rooted cross boundary cooperation. Instead, as prime minister and as a leading Israeli political personality, Barak preached and implemented the policies of “us here and them there” with fences, walls, checkpoints and permit regimes separating us.

IN ORDER to deflect responsibility for his intolerable and arrogant behavior at Camp David in July 2000, he and his team invented the myth of “no partner” and then continued to alienate Yasser Arafat, who with little problem self-sabotaged and led the Palestinians down a path of terrorism and destruction. The Oslo process required partnership to enable the kinds of mutual compromises necessary to build genuine peace. Barak was a major player in destroying the chances of building partnerships with the Palestinians and the Arab world, and continues to preach the myth that Israel can live in peace based on military strength alone. I am not sure that Barak can ever be taught to think differently. My own personal experience with him is that he thinks so highly of his own intelligence that there is little room for him to ever listen to anyone else seriously. Nonetheless, Netanyahu is recognizably a political giant standing in a field of political midgets. He continues to lead in the polls in the category of who is best suited to be Israel’s prime minister because there appears to be no real alternative who is seen by the majority of the public as someone who can navigate Israel successfully and safely in the stormy waters of this region. A majority of Israelis do not want Netanyahu for another term. The polls may show him in the lead, but when all of the others are counted together with those who do not want any of the candidates, Netanyahu loses. The problem is that until now, there was no other figure who appeared to the public as suitable for the task.

Barak may be the only person in Israel who in these times could beat Netanyahu – and that is the most important thing for Israel right now. Israel needs a quick and decisive course correction. If that is not made, the leaders after Netanyahu will be Bennett and company, inspired by the likes of the rabbis of the Ali Pre-Military Academy and other “progressives” such as Bentzi Gopstein, the murderers of the Dawabshe family, Elor Azaria and other heroes of the Israeli religious Right. Yitzhak Rabin was not a good prime minister in his first term. He learned and later became one of Israel’s best. Perhaps Barak in a second term could also become a great prime minister. There doesn’t yet seem to be anyone else out there worthy of the challenge. His Tuesday attack on YNET TV demonstrates his clear vision and determination to save Israel from its current course.

The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, ‘In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine,’ was published by Vanderbilt University Press.